Reggae Reggae Reads

Published on behalf of Patrick Fisher, Young Persons Project Worker

In the current issue of the Times Educational Supplement, Levi Roots speaks about his reading childhood.

In it he says how he came to England as an 11-year-old boy unable to read, write or even spell his name. This directly affected his experience of school:

“Because I couldn’t read, I sat at the back of the class with the boys who misbehaved, while the bright boys sat in the front. We called the front of the class the North and the back the Deep South…I was humble in class, because I wanted to learn and felt a bit embarrassed about not being able to read. Outside class, I was rowdy and seen as a cool country boy who could open a bottle with my teeth or a stick. My peers bigged me up.”

This is a typical scenario for many children even today in High Schools; remaining quiet in class and hiding behind a boisterous facade. In the past two years I have been reading 1:1 and in groups with children who find reading and writing difficult. Regardless of how bright they can seem conversationally, almost all of them suffer from a crippling lack of confidence or embarrassment when it comes to reading which in the most extreme cases has resulted in a child claiming he doesn’t read because he is unable to picture anything in his head.

One of the main stumbling blocks that these children have in overcoming their insecurities is that they feel alone in their situation and are unable, like Levi, to confide in their peers. If as an individual you do not have the skills to access the material how can you begin?

This is why the Get Into Reading project has been so successful; it has allowed children of all ages to hear stories and poems ‘come alive’ and to explore them slowly over time. As Levi says:

“Having books available to me and knowing that I was about to learn what was in them was exciting.”

Levi was lucky enough to have a teacher who spent time making books accessible to him but given the ever increasing pressure placed on teachers this is unlikely to happen regularly. Children need this opportunity made available to them as soon as possible and in the pressure cooker of high school, where time is so short and expectations of achievement so high, it is even more important; how can a child be expected to run before they can walk?

11 thoughts on “Reggae Reggae Reads”

    1. Nothing personal, BTW, I just feel very strongly about ridiculing anyone who wants to read and can’t and it was not very nice to say Jamie ‘chose’ not to read and misquote him in one of your earlier posts, IMO!

  1. This is a great post Patrick. I completely agree with you; giving a young person the space to personally engage with literature- no matter how able they are to decode the words on the page – is absolutely key to bringing books to life. I was recently told by a secondary English consultant that at GCSE level, you can only access the higher marks if you are able to show in your writing a real understanding of whats happening beneath the surface of a text- its deeper meaning. I think that this is something that many children miss out on by not feeling that they are able/have the right to use their imagination and intuition to find possible ‘right’ answers. Exploring books with your peers in a relaxed, encouraging and meaningful space is a wonderful way to overcome this – as the fantastic outcomes from your work in Liverpool schools have consistenly proven 🙂

  2. That’s an inspirational post. The Reader’s work shows that exploration of books in a relaxed atmosphere inspires and engages at all ages. But what a great start in life if you can ‘get’ books in your early schooldays.

  3. I am often infuriated by the lack of encouragment my son receives at school to read good literature. English lessons are often built around watching films of books rather then exploring the text.. teachers seem to have little faith in the abilities of children to ‘get’ literature..my son on one occasion tried to take a computer game instruction book to read in the class personal reading time because ‘it was allowed, other kids do it’ its not enough that kids read, its the quality that the teachers encourage to read that will give them a sense of achievement. My son and I are working our way through Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ at the moment, yes there are difficult parts but together we discuss them and read into the text. Often he reads into the text better then I. Its like we have our very own GIR group in the living room. If kids don’t get this at home and are certainly not getting it at certain schools then when will they ever ‘get’ it? Such a shame and a stifling of bright young minds.

    1. Michele, there are people discovering books at all ages through their participation in GIR groups. Yes it’s a tragedy if they’ve missed out at school and at home but it’s never to late to enjoy a story and the pleasure of shared reading.

      1. Hi Colin, I absolutely agree and have had the honour of attending some GIR groups and seeing for myself the fantastic work TRO is doing. I didn’t mean for my post to be so despondant! I find it frustrating to see missed opportunities from some teachers who have low expectations but as you rightly point out this does not mean that a love of reading cannot be ignited at any point in someone’s life.

  4. Thanks Mark, Sophie and Colin. It does seem odd that imaginative responses have been downplayed so drastically in favour of acquiring historical context and authorial biography before reading a text. Both are, of course, valuable assets but only as supplementation to the whole story, not the primary pathways of access. That Levi didn’t have either of these at his starting point is telling I think and perhaps, in meeting a story aurally, we should all be more trusting in the power of one’s imagination to realise it.

  5. What makes literature ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and does it matter? I have massive problems with attributing these words to any books and always tell my students that any reaction (good, bad, indifferent) means the book is doing its job i.e. communicating. I mean, I wouldn’t consider ‘Dracula’ to be ‘really good literature’ but hey, if you and your son are enjoying it, Michele, go for it! How are you coping with the overtly sexual references, btw? My CE group last year thought it was alternately grotesque and hilarious but we all differ I suppose: QED.

    I am afraid I don’t agree about films, either, because they are a valuable complementary and supplementary art form to reading. Indeed, watching Jane Austen made me want to read it after years of being repelled and Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is amazingly helpful in accessing what most, I venture, would call ‘great literature’ (the opening motage is particularly brilliant).

    Ah, but I am merely an ‘umble teacher of English (age range currently 9 to 92), so what do I know? Nowt, I guess, judging by how many comments here slam school (and poor, dyslexic, mocked Jamie Oliver, lol)!

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